Rants and Reflections

How can the British live with their electoral system?

I woke up to some bad news on the morning of May 8th.: an unexpectedly decisive victory for the Conservatives, who proved all the polls wrong and ended up with an actual majority. I’m not British and I don’t live in the UK, but I did grow up there and still take an interest in British politics. Furthermore, the neoliberal wave which started with Ronald Reagan and was enthusiastically welcomed by his friend Margaret Thatcher, did not stop at the English Channel. What happens in the UK is very relevant for anyone living in Europe. For whatever reason, this news made me angry, so it was time for a serious rant… (more…)


On Insult

Last week I read reports (e.g. here) of a big demonstration in London (on Saturday or Sunday, the 7th or 8th of February, that wasn’t clear from the reports) by thousands of Muslims protesting against Charlie Hebdo and its ‘insults’ to Islam and the Prophet. I was quite pleased to see photos of people holding up placards saying “Insult my Mum and I will punch you (Pope Francis)” as I’d expected that his words would be used in this way. I would be very interested indeed to know whether that was his intention, or whether he now regrets having spoken too rashly. When he said those words in an interview a few weeks ago it did seem totally spontaneous, but I wasn’t 100% convinced that that was genuine.

All this confirmed for me that my objection to the way most people seem to think about the concept “insult” is more than just a personal annoyance or a theoretical philosophical discussion, but an extremely important issue at the moment – frequently a matter of life and death, in fact – and that it was perhaps time for a general rant on the subject on this blog… (more…)

Is/was Charlie Hebdo racist?

Never having read it myself, I’m not going to offer an opinion on that one. But having talked in an earlier post about the possibility that Charlie Hebdo was “la propagande néoconservatrice déguisée en gauche progressiste”, I was interested to come across two articles from 2013 arguing both sides of the discussion:

  • According to Olivier Cyran, who worked for Charlie Hebdo from 1992 to 2001, the magazine became increasingly Islamophobic from 11 September 2001 onwards and is undeniably racist: en français, in English.
  • On the other hand Zineb El Rhazoui, a French-Moroccan journalist who worked for Charlie Hebdo in 2013 and still does, will have nothing of it: en français, in English.

300,000th birthday

This morning the mileage indicator of our van went over the 300k mark, meaning we’d done nearly 45k kilometres in it. If I were to say that he’d just celebrated his 300,000th kilometre it would sound strange or funny, depending on your sense of humour. Which is interesting, as someone ‘celebrating’ their so-many-th birthday sounds quite normal. And yet the two events are quite similar: the passing of an arbitrary point, which only sounds significant due to the particular systems of counting and time measurement we happen to use, on the (hopefully long) road to the scrap yard or cemetery as the case may be. But I never could understand why anyone would want to celebrate the fact that they’re a year older…

The punching pope

Last Sunday I spent ages unsuccessfully searching Google for that incident involving Bill Clinton, but today a very similar incident occurred involving Pope Francis. While talking to journalists about the recent Charlie Hebdo killings he said freedom of speech was a fundamental human right and strongly condemned what had happened in Paris, but added that there are limits to freedom of expression and that ‘one cannot make fun of faith’. Having said that ‘such horrific violence in God’s name could not be justified’, he basically went on to contradict himself by adding ‘One cannot provoke, one cannot insult other people’s faith, one cannot make fun of faith. There is a limit. Every religion has its dignity … in freedom of expression there are limits. If my good friend Dr Gasparri [the guy who organises papal trips and was standing by his side] says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch. It’s normal. It’s normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others.’ What he was actually saying was that a perceived insult can be sufficient justification for physical violence, and that such violence was ‘normal’. His only problem with the Charlie Hebdo killers, then, was that they’d gone too far: punching someone is allowed, but shooting them isn’t. (more…)

Ridiculous political correctness and other human stupidity

Today I just seemed to keep running into examples of human stupidity. This morning P. showed me an article on the site of De Morgen about the current climate of ridiculous political correctness in the UK. Wide-ranging laws against anything that anyone might find ‘offensive’ mean that (according to Terry Jones of Monty Python fame) the film Life of Brian could never have been made nowadays. (more…)

Being Charlie – some thoughts on symbols, insults and emotions

Thursday 8 January 2015

As I passed the pharmacy on the way into the shopping centre this morning I saw a girl who had just come out and was sticking up a photocopied “Je suis Charlie” sign on the wall; every website and newspaper has been carrying that message since yesterday and it’s been tweeted millions of times all over the world. I very much suspect that most of the people saying that ‘they are Charlie’ have never even read Charlie Hebdo (just as I haven’t). I found myself getting annoyed today, mainly because of what had actually happened in Paris yesterday – that anyone could be so crazy as to actually kill someone because he felt ‘insulted’, either personally or on behalf of ‘the prophet’ – but also because of all this “Je suis Charlie” stuff. Those murders had been committed by people suffering from the illusion that symbols are important, and the reaction was yet more symbols. If people didn’t take symbols so seriously then they wouldn’t be so easily insulted, people wouldn’t get murdered and other people wouldn’t have to waste their time and energy making yet more symbolic gestures. These are not the sort of thoughts I feel I could really share with the people in my local shopping centre – I doubt if many would understand. (more…)